Mar. 17, 2003

Remembering That Island

by Thomas McGrath

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Poem: "Remembering That Island," by Thomas McGrath from The Movie at the End of the World: Collected Poems (Swallow Press).

Remembering That Island

Remembering that island lying in the rain
(Lost in the North Pacific, lost in time and the war)
With a terrible fatigue as of repeated dreams
Of running, climbing, fighting in the dark,
I feel the wind rising and the pitiless cold surf
Shaking the headlands of the black north.

And the ships come in again out of the fog--
As real as nightmare I hear the rattle of blocks
When the first boat comes down, the ghostly whisper
      of feet
At the barge pier -- and wild with strain I wait
For the flags of my first war, the remembered faces,
And mine not among them to make the nightmare safe.

Then without words, with a heavy shuffling of gear,
The figures plod in the rain, in the seashore mud,
Speechless and tired; their faces, lined and hard,
I search for my comrades, and suddenly -- there -- there--
Harry, Charlie, and Bob, but their faces are worn, old,
And mine is among them. In a dream as real as war

I see the vast stinking Pacific suddenly awash
Once more with bodies, landings on all beaches,
The bodies of dead and living gone back to appointed

A ten year old resurrection,
And myself once more in the scourging wind, waiting,
While the rich oratory and the lying famous corrupt
Senators mine our lives for another war.

Literary Notes:

Today is the feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who tradition says died on this day (circa 460 AD). Patrick was born in Britain to upper class, Christian parents. When he was 16, he was captured by pirates and carried off to Ireland where he spent six years as a slave tending sheep. He escaped from Ireland only to return as the bishop who would convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. Poet and former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy described the five great loves that mark the Irish heart. The first of these is love of country, "for the soil of Ireland, for its towns and people." The next great Irish love is love of religion -- for the "things of the spirit, for the faith." The third is love of learning. The fourth is a deep-rooted love of political freedom. The fifth and last great love of the Irish is their love of poetry and song.

It's the birthday of children's illustrator and author Kate Greenaway, born in London, England (1846). She is famous for her delicate drawings of childhood scenes, in which doll-like figures dance and play in the idyllic countryside. The first book Greenaway authored and illustrated, Under the Window (1879), was a huge success, selling more than 100,000 copies in her lifetime. She never married and lived with her parents and her brother. She was, however, involved in an intense and often stormy relationship with the art critic John Ruskin, who was nearly sixty and mentally unstable when they met. For twenty years, they communicated almost entirely through letters. He was often critical of her work. In one letter, he wrote: "I am not going to be 'severe' but I must ask you not to repeat those funny little black shadows under the feet of your figures-looking in some places like spurs, in others like tadpoles, in others like short stilts." Still, Greenaway adored him.

It's the birthday of British writer Penelope Lively, born in Cairo, Egypt (1933). A prolific writer, she started her career as a children's author, writing over 20 novels for children. She has since written almost as many novels for adults, including Heat Wave (1996) and Moon Tiger (1987), which won the Booker Prize in 1987.

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Paul Green, born on a farm near Lillington, North Carolina (1894). He wrote In Abraham's Bosom (1926), which won a Pulitzer, and Native Son, adapted from the Richard Wright novel (1941).


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